Yala National Park and the East Coast
The next stop on my circuit was a small town known for offering safari tours of Yala National Park. I didn’t know that Sri Lanka was known for safaris, but apparently some of the safaris here rival those in East Africa. Who knew? I suspect the safaris here aren’t regulated nearly as well because shortly after dawn, there was a mini traffic jam of noisy jeeps all squeezing down one little road to peer at the same poor animals. Aside from that, the safari was quite nice. I’ve never seen elephants in the wild before. And bird watching isn’t nearly as boring as I had always thought. Well, assuming that there are tons of crazy looking birds around.
I left the sun and sparkle of the park behind and headed toward Arugam Bay, which is supposed to be the heart of Sri Lanka’s surf scene, and a gorgeous beach. What I found was dreary weather and a completely abandoned town. Apparently a couple hundred kilometers changes the weather’s mood from tropical paradise to post-apocalyptic deserted zombie land? I caught a bed and left first thing the following day. A little extra research would have helped here.
I jutted slightly inland from the coast to visit a town called Polonnaruwa, which was Sri Lanka’s kingdom and capital around 900 A.D. Some interesting ruins remain which are spread out throughout the town. A perfect excuse for me to get off my motorcycle and get some exercise peddling a rickety bicycle for once.
I headed back coast-ward, looking forward to one to the countries best snorkeling and diving sites, Pigeon Island. On the way, I learned that my laissez-faire attitude towards travel planning works fine if you travel by bus or train, but not so well if you're travelling exposed to the elements on a motorcycle. As it turns out, the ‘dry season’ I talked about only applied to the more popular South and Central regions of Sri Lanka. The Eastern coast still has a solid month of monsoon downpour before it sees any sun. Without as much as a plastic bag, let alone rain gear, I stopped under the shelter of a nice lady’s fruit stall, to contemplate my options. I wrapped extra (cotton) layers around my camera gear and myself and plodded on, squinting into the rain. I arrived near Pigeon Island as cold, wet, and miserable as I’ve ever been. As the only tourist dumb enough to visit this soggy beach town during a monsoon, my isolated guest house looked entirely abandoned. I was the only one sleeping in the three story building and Its old colonial architecture, leaking roof, dark stairways, and perpetually slamming window shutters made for likely the creepiest place I’ve ever stayed (even the workers who maintained the guest house in the off season slept in a separate building). But with some strange stroke of luck my modest room somehow had a clothes drying rack. I plied it with all my soaked belongings and placed it directly under the ceiling fan. I can’t even explain how happy that made me.